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How central desks help create multimedia newsrooms for GateHouse
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By David Arkin
Penny Riordan manages digital content partnerships for GateHouse Media. She works out of the Center for News and Design in Austin. Prior to joining the company, she worked at Patch.com for four years, where she led social media, blogging and UGC ...
Social Media Blog
Penny Riordan manages digital content partnerships for GateHouse Media. She works out of the Center for News and Design in Austin. Prior to joining the company, she worked at Patch.com for four years, where she led social media, blogging and UGC efforts for the company. She also launched a Patch site in Maryland. Penny has also worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Maryland and Connecticut.
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Photo by Joe Greco
Team leaders Ron Bullock, from left, Kate Dempsey (partially obscurred by her monitor) and Laura Hoffman, and designers Jeff Dale and Josh Orth design pages on Tuesday at the Design House in Framingham.
June 7, 2012 12:01 a.m.

This week marked a major milestone for GateHouse Media as we officially launched our Design Houses, our two central desks.

The two centers — one in Illinois and the other in Massachusetts — are responsible for the editing and page design of our newspapers. This week, we launched 21 weekly newspapers in the Boston area and two daily papers in Rockford and Freeport, Ill. By the end of the year, we'll have nearly 300 newspapers produced out of the two centers.

In recent weeks there's been a lot of talk about copy editing centralization and what the future holds for copy editors, likely because even more media companies are heading down this path. The Denver Post announced it would be eliminating many of its copy editors, and it's assumed that will happen for the daily in New Orleans and three other large dailies in Alabama that are going three-days-a-week in print in a few months.

Clearly, there's an impact on the role of the copy editor at GateHouse Media, and that reality is hitting hard this week as we launch our two Design Houses. While we are confident centralizing copy editing and page design is going to have long-term positive effects on our newsrooms, we are extremely mindful of the human impact this move has on our organization right now.

For years, copy editors and page designers performed consistent tasks when they walked through the doors of their newspapers. They viewed wires, received budgets, read content, edited content, sent content back to city editors, got cleaner copy on pages, edited that copy some more, moved the pieces they had to work with around on a page, wrote headlines, subheads and edited again, finished their page and sent it to an editor for edits. The editor edited, gave the page back to the page designer, who made the edits and then gave another final proof to the editor. The editor would find more things, send it back, and the copy editor finally would send the page. That's exhausting just to write. Imagine doing it. Every day.

As GateHouse looked at the possibility of centralizing its production, we examined the process that went into page production and came out of that investigation realizing that if we really were serious about creating multimedia newsrooms, that we simply couldn't continue in our current business model. That meant we had to find ways to make the production process less time-sucking. Centralization was an obvious way to do that. And better technology would be key to allow us to do that companywide. That's why we chose Saxotech, a well-established content management system, to provide us a technological solution that would make that production process faster by having newsrooms dictate coverage through budgets and writing copy to fit holes.

Someone once told me that copy editors can make you worse than you are on some days, but normally they make your newspaper better than you should be. That comment sticks with me very much today as we embark on launching 280 newspapers into a central system. I recognize that we are clearly losing some of that ass-saving that local copy editors currently provide but am comforted by the fact that we're hiring the best of the best in the industry to edit our newspapers at our two centers. Design House staffers range from eager, fresh-out-of-college editors/designers who renew our enthusiasm for journalism to experienced professionals who meld traditional standards with an openness to learning new ways of doing things.

Newspapers have always made mistakes, but corrections in print are a way of preserving credibility, saying that we care enough to set the record straight. We recognize that despite our best efforts, mistakes will slip in. But we believe strongly in well-trained, well-qualified people who are there to save us from our own mistakes. Newspapers have always put out the best product possible and that remains our goal both at the local and central editing levels. Getting clean copy from local sites is huge and training more staff members at our smaller sites to edit is key to the success of our Design Houses.

There's no denying that at our smallest sites, production of the paper isn't a one-person job. It affects everyone on the staff. We have to make decisions on what we want staff doing. Is that formatting the community calendar and designing a sky box or covering that fire down the street? Clearly, for us, it's the latter. We know that our audiences are going to demand more content in more unique formats on more platforms, and we have to be able to put our site structure in a position to meet those demands. Worrying about getting back to the office to design the local front just doesn't put us in position to accomplish that goal.

To me, central desks are so much more than just moving production from one city to another and saving some expense. They are a step toward building true multimedia newsrooms. They create an environment where staff walk in in the morning thinking about how to create the most compelling content for their community. They focus on building high-quality enterprise content, making front page centerpieces pop with stories that readers are surprised by and moving content throughout the day to their online devices, always considering different multimedia tools they can use to tell stories that matter.

There will be bumps along the way for sure, but at the end of the day, we value editing and design, and we are putting our organization in the best possible position to have the brightest and best in the industry leading us in that space, while having our newsrooms obsessed with covering the stuff that creates significant value to our readers.

David Arkin is Vice President of Content & Audience  for GateHouse Media. Contact him at darkin@gatehousemedia.com

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